Monday, July 15, 2013

Kaya Series Reading Guide

To return to the Kaya Unit Home Page, simply click here.  The unit will include a series of lessons that teach about American Indians in a broader and more experiential way.  This article is one amongst many related articles to come.

If you'd like to have your kids do some vocabulary and comprehension work alongside their reading of the Kaya Series of books, this set of words and questions should work well for most elementary school students between third and fifth grade who might read, The five books that follow Meet Kaya.  To access a guide for the first book, Meet Kaya simply click the linked title. 

There are a few things to consider in order to responsibly teach about American Indians and our shared history.  Please take a look at the article Pluses and Minuses for resources and ideas about avoiding passing on common stereotypes of American Indians AND for information about the "fictional" aspects (or historical and cultural inaccuracies) inherent in the stories so you are informed about these as well.

By The Book

Kaya's Escape


  • provisions
  • praised
  • plunged
  • fatigue
  • satisfaction
  • Salish
  • abalone
  • constellation
  • basin
  • lean-to
  • sniggle
  • sleet
  • cairn

Questions to Answer

  1. Why is it so important for the Nez Perce to dry meat and berries throughout the summer months?
  2. Why does Kaya go toward the horses even when she was told to follow her grandmother into the forest to hide?  What would you have done?
  3. Why does Kaya feel it is her fault she and Speaking Rain are made slaves?
  4. Why do Two Hawks and Kaya use signs to communicate?
  5. Why is the snow such a danger to Kaya and Two Hawks?
  6. What makes Kaya's Cairn so important to the scout that saw it that the men would go back up into the mountains?
  7. What do you think is happening to Speaking Rain?
  8. Can you predict what will happen in the next book?  What will it be about and why do you think so?

Try It

It can be a lot of fun to make forts.  If you have woods, or a beach with log jetsam on it, take some  time to build a lean-to together.  If you can, spend the night and use your lean to while you also take some time out to do the following activity as well.
Find a place where you can see a dark night sky (you'll need to get away from the city lights) and see if you can identify the north star and any constellations while you gaze.  Can you see the milky way?  Prepare first by perusing these sites: American Indian Starlore, Astro Bob's experience with a Pawnee Star Map, and this Teacher's Guide for Native American Sky Legends.  You might also want to bring a standard star chart with you.   This isn't so much about seeing the exact constellations Kaya would have seen, but experiencing the night sky and understanding how it was a map for early travelers.  After having a night under the stars, have your kids create their own star chart complete with a constellation from their own ideas and a myth to go with it.

Build an artful Cairn.  Take a look at nature art such as that made by Andy Goldsworthy.  Let Kaya's Cairn and the nature nearest your "special spot" inspire you to build an artful Cairn

Kaya's Hero


  • tee-kas
  • seized
  • uneasy
  • pemmican
  • beckoning
  • frigid
  • determined
  • seek
  • crease
  • cocked
  • horizon
  • descend
  • isolated

 Questions to Answer

  1. In Kaya's Escape, Two Hawks refused to help build the lean-to because it was "women's work."  As you read Kaya's Hero, make a list of the tasks the men and boys generally did and a list of the typical tasks the women generally did?
  2. Swan Circling says, "You have a strong will, Kaya, and I'm glad you think of the needs of others."  How does Swan Circling description of Kaya compare with the "Magpie" part of Kaya's past?
  3. What do you think about the idea, "to make a mistake is not a bad thing, but I (Swan Circling) should be wise enough not to make the same mistake again-and again."  Can you think of any examples of a mistake you or others you know about have learned from?
  4. How could the lesson about lopsided baskets help two hawks with his flute?
  5. What made Kaya so reluctant to tell Swan Circling about her nickname?
  6. What honor had Swan Circling bequeathed on Kaya?  Why was it so important to Kaya to learn of this honor AND to learn that Swan Circling had indeed known about Kaya's nick-name all along?

Rites of Passage

In every culture there are rites of passage.  Graduation, Marriage, and Prom are among the rites of passage we experience in our own modern culture.  In Nez Perce society, There were many rites of passage.  The first time a girl helped dig Camas Bulbs involved a ceremony and special recognition.  However, the most important right of passage for children in the community was the Vision Quest.

Birth and Death are two rites of passage every human in every culture experiences.  If you have access to Welcome to the World of Kaya, read "How Bear Helped Nimiipuu" and discuss ideas about death from different cultures with your child/students.  What do we learn about how the Nimiipuu honored the loved ones who died from Kaya's Hero?  How does your family remember/honor loved ones that pass on?

Try It

Kaya and her family members, make toys for the little ones out of the materials around them and scraps from the resources they use to make larger clothes and items.  Whether they were from North America, Europe or Asia, people used to make toys out of what was available near-by.  For Kaya that meant using twigs, sticks, pine needles, tule reads and scraps of buckskins.  Make a toy out of scraps of fabric and yarn, or corn husks, or if you are particularly creative and able, figure out how to use twigs from your yard, or pine needles to make a doll of a person or horse by twisting, bending and tying these objects together to make your doll.

Kaya and Lone Dog


  • canyon
  • disrespectfully
  • lope
  • gnat
  • approached
  • commanded
  • crooned
  • contentedly
  • frantic
  • murmured
  • viciously
  • affectionately
  • solitary
  • miserably

Questions to answer

  1. How does having a pure mind and heart help in digging roots?
  2. Why does Kautsa think Kaya should listen to snow paws?
  3. How do the boys compare Lone Dog and Kaya?  What do the say is the same?
  4. Kaya has had a lot of sadness she is dealing with.  Lone Dog helps lift her heart and so does working with the horses.  Have you ever had a time when you were sad and a pet helped you feel better.  Tell about that time here.
  5. Why did the twins finding the puppies make Kaya so nervous?
  6. Would you have tied up Lone Dog to keep her with you or would you have made the same choice as Kaya?  Why?

Different Resources, Different Shelter

Remind your child/students of the tale of the three little pigs.  Each pig finds a different resource with which to build its house.  All over the world in every ancient culture, people had to use the resources around them in order to provide shelter for themselves.  The Nez Perce used Tule Mats and Lodge Poles to make Tepees in the hot summer months and long houses in the winters.  However, the Pueblo made vast adobe complexes.  Unlike the three little pigs, all people developed good shelters for their needs using what they had in the environment around them.  Take a look at the different kinds of homes different people used based on the resources available to them.  Take a look at where each of these styles of homes was made, what resources are used in their construction, and what was available where the homes were constructed.  Also remember some American Indians were migratory (like Kaya and her people) and some were more agricultural staying in one place for longer periods.  How would this affect what the people needed their homes to be like.  Then choose your favorite shelter type, study it a little more and make a shelter in the same style for a doll of yours.

Kaya Shows the Way


  • crested
  • descent
  • dismounted
  • admired
  • surging
  • current
  • sobered
  • gored
  • commotion
  • pigment

Questions to Answer

  1. Why is Brown Deer both happy and nervous about the arrival of Cut Cheek's aunt?
  2. When Kaya pretended to be a magpie on the island after Fox Tail used the nickname again, everyone laughed.  Do you think Kaya's nickname may begin to fade if the others think it no longer upsets her?
  3. Why does Speaking Rain choose to stay with White Braids?  Is it as simple as her vow, or do think it also partly because of how much White Braids needs her?  Is it rewarding for Speaking Rain to be needed so?
  4. When Kaya is explaining Speaking Rain's choice to stay with White Braids to her sister, Brown Deer says she has, "split feelings."  What does this mean?  Have you ever had split feelings?  Describe your feelings and what those feelings were about.
  5. Speaking rain likes Kaya's idea to live with both families - each for part of a year.  Eetsa is concerned with this idea.  It is easy to see why Speaking Rain settled on this idea in the end, but what could be especially difficult about it in the future.

Science Connection

In Kaya Shows the Way, we learn about the great gathering for trade and fishing at Celilo falls.  This waterfall is now flooded under a resevoir behind a dam that was built in the 1950's.  Because of the Dalles dam and others on the Columbia River, fish populations are struggling.  Fishermen making a living at sea and today's Nez Perce are all suffering the consequences of smaller salmon populations because of the dams.  Read about the issue in, "Looking Back" at the end of Kaya Shows the Way. 

Watersheds and the salmon (and other resources) the river provides were important to Kaya and her family and are still important to all of us (Nez Perce included) today.  These two sets of activities will help students learn about watersheds and the life cycle of salmon.  Watershed investigation, and The Salmon Story (while officially about Alaskan Salmon, the same life cycle applies also to salmon in Washington/Oregon and in Idaho).  Learn more about the impact of Dams at Idaho Rivers United and the story of Celilo Falls and the Nez Perce fight to save it as well as their on-going fight to restore healthier and higher fish populations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho rivers.  Then get involved, participate in a watershed clean up with the ocean conservancy, learn about responsible salmon eating with Nature Conservancy or learn about Salmon Restoration Programs with the Department of Fisheries. 

Changes for Kaya


  • spoil
  • foothills
  • beloved
  • keen
  • endanger
  • neglected
  • dashed
  • considerate
  • vigorous
  • backfire
  • haze
  • ascended
  • hobbled
  • defiance
  • intruder
  • elude
  • updrafts
  • plume


  1. Who were the people with pale hairy faces?
  2. How did Soar Like an Eagle Save so many people?
  3. Kautsa tells a tale to the twins about how fire was brought down to the people.  List some of things for which fire was needed.
  4. How did the magpies remind Kaya about what she was supposed to be doing?
  5. Why did Kaya need to rely on Steps High allowing her to ride in order to escape the fire?
  6. What do you think made the whistle Kaya followed?  Why?
  7. Read, "Looking Back - Changes in the Wind" and then predict, what do you think the next story could be for Kaya if someone decided to write it?  Write the next chapter of Kaya's life the way you think it would unfold.

Try It

I came from a rural place where we often could go pick berries at the end of summer.  I must say, childhood, simply isn't childhood without this experience.  If it is the right time of year to go pick blackberries, blueberries, currants, huckleberries, thimble berries, or others take an afternoon off to go berry picking.  Stop for a picnic along the way and read Blueberries for Sal, or more of this last installment of Kaya.

Whole Series 


  1. Retell two lessons Kaya learned that helped her grow up within her community to be well on the road to becoming a leader.  Can you include any myths or stories her elders told that helped her along the way?
  2. What did the Nez Perce believe about how they were created as a people?
  3. When the Nez Perce prayed, to whom were they praying and what kinds of things did they pray for?
  4. How did the Nez Perce get around during Kaya's time?  How did they get around 50 years before Kaya (her grandmother)?
  5. How did the Nez Perce way of life reflect the setting in which they lived?  How did the resources available to the people impact the way lived?  How did life change with the seasons? 
  6. One of the themes repeated in a few of the books is about practice and growing through practice and repetition.  Can you think of a skill that was hard for you at first (like whittling a flute for Lone Dog, basket weaving for Swan Circling or refraining from boasting for Kaya) that you've had to practice in order to get better?  Describe the skill, how things started, how you practiced and how it felt as you became more accomplished and confident in the skill.
  7. Name a favorite theme you found in multiple books in the series.  Give examples of how the theme came up from at least three books and include page numbers where the examples can be found.

Try Its

Use any of these activities from our National Park Service as tie-ins for any number of chapters of the books.  You will find instructions for playing the stick game, making Pemmican, constructing a toy canoe and more.

While reading, ask your students to keep track of the food the Nez Perce are gathering throughout the seasons.  Create a table with four columns and many empty rows.  Then, with your child/students, find as many examples of foods Kaya and her community eat as you can.  Fill in the first column on a table titled, "Foods by the Season."  As you read, continue to collect examples of foods discussed in the book.  Label the top of the second column "fall."  Continue filling out the table so your food samples fall into the correct columns for each season.  For example, Kaya eats fresh huckleberries in the late summer/early fall, and she dries them so they will have dried huckleberries to eat through the winter.  At the end of your reading adventures, have a seasonal feast of Nez Perce foods (or at least modern versions of them).  Please look forward to a lesson that will include recipes and other related resources.

Visit the Nez Perce National Park - I have not yet had the opportunity to visit this collection of locations that honor and celebrated this tribe as well as memorialize the trials and pain of the past, but I'm sure it would be a great experience - if you are nearby, take advantage.  If you are not nearby, you can still take advantage of the online resources and visual opportunities offered by the National Park Service.  Check out these activities for kids, as well as the curricular resources available for teachers and parents.

Even if you can't visit the Nez Perce Park, there are other National and State parks throughout the country that celebrate the American Indians that inhabit and inhabited the region in and surrounding the park.  Learn about the people that were/are local to your area alongside your study of the Nez Perce.  You can compare similarities and differences in culture, tradition, resource availability and use and learn a lot about how not all Native Americans are any one thing.  See if the nearest reservation has an outreach or education program (some do) in which you can participate or if an elder can visit your class (or cooperative) and share some of the stories he/she would normally share with young tribe members.

Have your students list the different kinds of plant and animal life that is mentioned throughout the book.  Then, have them research the plants and animals they list to find photos and pictures.  Print these resources and have them create a collage showing the type of environment the Nez Perce lived in and what lived there.

Print out an outline map of the North American Continent AND a map of the 5 North Western States and their neighboring provinces to the North.  Ask your students to map the approximations of the migrations described in the Kaya series, map the approximate area where Speaking Rain, Kaya and Two Hawks were taken during Kaya's Escape and even include some elevation using clay to show where mountains are and approximate heights of the different valleys and locations mentioned along with place names.  Can they use information from the "looking back" sections, the stories themselves, and research about the Nez Perce to complete their maps in a fairly accurate way?  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comments!